One of my favorite childhood treats were pink and white circus animal cookies; and honestly, I still love them! In a quest to create a copycat version of my fave cookies, I have come up with what I think is the best rendition out there.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attachment, or using an electric hand mixer, add butter and beat until creamy, about 30 to 60 seconds. Add the powdered sugar and beat until well combined.
Beat in egg and vanilla until just combined. Reduce speed to low, add the dry ingredients, and beat just until the dough starts to come together, about 1 to 2 minutes. Do not overmix. Scrape down the bowl as needed.
Turn out the dough onto a clean surface and shape the dough into a ball. Flatten into a 1-inch disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for at least 30 minutes.
Adjust oven racks to the upper and lower middle positions. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Sandwich the dough between two pieces of parchment paper or plastic wrap and roll out to 1/8-inch thick. Using small animal-shaped cookie cutters, cut out cookies and transferred to prepared baking sheets.
Using a toothpick, poke a few holes in each cookie to prevent them from raising too much. Bake until the cookies are set, about 10 minutes. Transfer to racks and cool completely.
To decorate the cookies:
Line two baking sheets with parchment or wax paper. Melt pink candy whites according to package directions (30-second increments in the microwave or over a double-boiler).
Dip half of the cookies into the pink candy melts, allowing excess to drip back into the bowl, and set on parchment paper. Immediately sprinkle with a pinch of nonpareils.
Repeat with white candy melts and remaining cookies. Allow cookies to harden completely before removing from the paper. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
Powdered sugar: Using powdered instead of granulated means the sugar and butter combine effortlessly and create a crisp, sandy texture.
Vanilla extract: This is the classic flavor for these cookies, but you could substitute another extract if you want to change things up. Almond is a favorite of mine here!